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Four-year-old DS making borderline racist comments - HELP

(29 Posts)
youbetimnamechanging Sat 14-Jul-07 20:20:17

Regular poster, name-changing out of embarrassment.

We are a white family. DS is 4 and a half. We live in a pretty ethnically monolithic environment (ie mostly white), and don't have many non-white friends. Over the last couple of months, DS has begun to make some comments that are making my head spin a bit.

For example: a selection of photos of young children in CBeebies magazine. DS (with no prompting): 'I like this one, and this one, and this one [pointing to the white children], but not this one [pointing to the black child].'

I deliberately haven't responded to this sort of thing - it's only happened once of twice - hoping that if I didn't react, and didn't 'give' him the language to describe enthnicity, he wouldn't go further with the conceptualization. However, today at the park he had the following conversation with DP:

[DP] Do you like girls then?
[DS] Yes, I like all girls the same. But I don't like the brown ones.'

I'm getting a bit worried about this now. We are friends with two non-white families, and I'm really anxious that he is going to say something in front of them. OTOH, I know that DS is an emotional sponge, and might well be picking up on my anxiety and playing me a bit.

What to do? Ignore? Have a bit of a chat? He starts school in September and I'd hate him to say this sort of thing there. Are there any good books?

God, I'm such a wet liberal, this is one of my worst nightmares...

Thank you if you have got this far!

Othersideofthechannel Sat 14-Jul-07 20:27:57

At this age if he hasn't got any negative role models it's probably just a question of fear of the unknown. Like saying you don't like a fruit that you haven't tasted just because you haven't seen it before.
If he mentions it again, you could ask him why he doesn't like the brown ones and explain why they have brown skin so that he doesn't think there is anything scarey about them.
You are friends with two non-white families so that is going to show him by example.

scattyspice Sat 14-Jul-07 20:31:23

He probably is a bit afraid of black children if he hasn't met any before. Or he is trying to prompt you to explain it to him.

My DS has started pointing out black faces and saying 'thats like x '(his black friend).

I say 'oh yes'.

youbetimnamechanging Sat 14-Jul-07 20:34:32

Thank you for replying! Feeling pariah-like.

When we've had days out with my (black) friend and her little girl, I've tried having a bit of a chat with him beforehand, but without mentioning skin colour - just saying that he must not be rude, that he will make people sad if he says that he doesn't like them or doesn't want to play with them. I've been worried about being more explicit, but I guess if he's already using the word 'brown' then it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty a bit more.

However, he is a very stubborn little man (gets it from me AND his dad), and once he has voiced an opinion he can be pretty hard to shift.

edam Sat 14-Jul-07 20:34:37

Oh, this must be very upsetting and potentially embarrassing. But he's hardly a card-carrying member of the BNP. Agree he's probably picked up on your anxiety. Even though you've tried very hard not to react, they still know somehow where your pressure points are.

I guess lots of very matter of fact little chats about how people all look different, hair and eye colour and so on, and how stupid it would be to say all blue eyed people are clever/stupid and so on leading up to skin colour... that's how I remember my mother gently introducing us to the concept of racism.

EscapeFrom Sat 14-Jul-07 20:37:00

I had this discussion with my 4 year old, but i told him not to be so silly, and that peole have different coloured skin, and different coloured hair and different coloured eyes, and it would be silly to choose your friends based on what colour their skin or hair or eyes are.

Probably wrong approach but he went with it.

youbetimnamechanging Sat 14-Jul-07 20:38:23

Oh edam, that is a useful one about eye colour and so on. I could set a few bear traps

I do think he's picking up on my anxiety - he can be an uncannily accurate 'mirror' of me, emotionally. Maybe I'd be better off getting someone else to do the little chats?

youbetimnamechanging Sat 14-Jul-07 20:39:08

Sorry Escape, x-posts.

Why had this parallel not occurred to me? Paralysed by my own anxiety...

collisionfrances Sat 14-Jul-07 20:39:38

My ds does the same but I am trying not to react to it.

We are a white family and there are very few black children at school and he does refer to them by colour.

He says,' You know the black Joshua at school Mummy......' (and then he tells me a nice story about Joshua)


The brown lady was looking at me and she was very scary....

I did talk about that as I told him it was nothing to do with her being a different colour to us.

I have also bought him a book from the library about genes and what makes us different so we can talk about it.

When my BIL married a girl from Ghana ds did say that they couldnt marry because they didnt match!!!! that was potentially embarrassing but Bil told Sil and she thought it was v funny!

edam Sat 14-Jul-07 20:41:18

Snap, EF!

Youbet, I think it might make it worse if someone else has the little chats - could appear that is is such a sensitive issue you can't bear to talk about it, make it bigger than it has to be, IYSWIM. Or even that you aren't certain what the right approach is. Think you have to take a deep breath and concentrate on being very matter of fact.

youbetimnamechanging Sat 14-Jul-07 20:41:39

Books about genes - good one <scribbles in 'White Liberal Worrier's Handbook'>

youbetimnamechanging Sat 14-Jul-07 20:42:39

OK, mum

(Knew I wasn't going to get out of that one.)

Desiderata Sat 14-Jul-07 20:43:08

Have only read the OP. Please, this is a perfectly natural response for a child of this age. You simply cannot expect a child to absorb PC principles. He is looking at pictures where one person is not the same.

An African child would say the same, as would a Chinese child, an Indian child or any other child in the same environment.

It means nothing. If you make a big deal of it, it may come to mean something. Your little boy is coming to understand that people have different coloured skins. That hardly makes him a racist!!

Wet liberals (in your words) can often exacerbate the problem of racism ... so please, chill out and find an intelligent way of blending the colours for him.

edam Sat 14-Jul-07 20:44:03

Think the eye/hair colour thing worked particularly well for me as it is something adults tend to comment on wrt children's appearance. And as I'd already worked out that the heroines in children's books, and 9/10ths of baby dolls, were blonde haired and blue eyed. So as someone with neither, I was quick to appreciate the unfairness of judging by colour, IYSWIM.

EscapeFrom Sat 14-Jul-07 20:44:09

My first words to ds1 aft6er his strop about the 'I don't like X because she is brown' was (crap-parentingly) "Don't be so rude! You have better manners than that!"

Posey Sat 14-Jul-07 20:45:13

When I was little, about 3, I went to playgroup. I lived in a very very very white area. A black boy came to playgroup. I cried and cried, I was frightened and my mum came to collect me.

It wasn't racism, it was fear of the new, the unknown I guess. I am now 38, and so secure in my totally non-racist self that I am happy to post this about my childtime self using my normal posting name.

HedTwigg Sat 14-Jul-07 20:45:33

you need to focus on it head on

talk about the differences between people

he has brown eyes, you have green eyes
he has red hair, you have brown hair
she has curly hair, you have straight hair
she has brown skin, you have pink skin

talk about the similarities: inside we are all the same

expalin to him that it is not acceptable to dislike people for the way they look and that he wouldn't like it if someone said they didn't like him because he had 2 eyes / brown hair .. whatever

youbetimnamechanging Sat 14-Jul-07 20:46:09

Desi - is it a natural response? (Genuine question.) Did your kids respond in the same way? I can understand fear of the unknown, but what has rocked me a bit is him saying that he doesn' like black/brown people - even a little girl with whom he plays quite regularly.

I have really tried to conceal my anxiety, but as edam says, the little blighters tend to pick up on it anyway.

If you have any suggestions for intelligent approaches I would be truly grateful!

lucyellensmum Sat 14-Jul-07 20:52:50

in response to the original post, i dont think your son is being racist, he is just responding to a difference, skin colour being an obvious one if you live in a predominantly white area. I remember my cousins wee lad embarrasing his mummy years ago by saying at the top of his voice, mummy, why doesnt that lady wash the brown off. Fortunately the lady saw the funny side of it . I would suggest getting DS to spend time with your friends and he will soon see past any perceived differences. All children pick up on differences, that is why if you are the poor ginger spotty kid at school you get picked on, it is a lack of understanding that they thankfully grow out of.

lljkk Sat 14-Jul-07 20:52:53

When DC have commented about skin colour (or similar physical traits, like being fat) I am direct, asking "Why did you say that?" in a non-judgemental tone. And exploring together why child is thinking the way they are.

Usually I can point out to them how unfair their prejudice is -- that it is in fact something they've decided without any evidence, or decided for unfair reasons. Example: How would they like it if they were the only person with blue eyes, and what if other people decided not to like them just because they didn't like blue eyes? "Would that be fair?" I ask. Even a very young child seems to get the point.

Desiderata Sat 14-Jul-07 20:56:32

Ok, Twig just gave you several

I just want you to know that it isn't your fault, and that children go through these things. A four year old is really not capable of border-line racism. They just don't see the world like that. They see a child with a different coloured skin and they are curious/rebellious about it.

Your concern is admirably understandable, but you just need to talk to him. The sun makes certain people's skins darker. If you come from a hot country, your skin is darker. Children are forensically practical. They will understand this, in the same way that if a white child appeared in an African nursery, the explanation would be the opposite.

Don't make a rod for your own back. It's just skin colour he's wobbling over .. and he won't wobble for long with a mum as good as you!

Piffle Sat 14-Jul-07 21:00:40

I think fro my exp with ds1...
I focussed on the absurdity (keeping it fun btw) on judging things be it folks or fruit on their colour

What worked best was
What's your favourite food...


Why do you like it
It tastes yummy

So if it was yellow would it still taste nice and would you still love it.


And this we developed into a silly game about judging things on appearance...
And now he is a teenager I cna tell you whatever I did worked at some level as he is the most liberal teen I know.

And he was at age 4 deply suspicious of anyone with a different skin colour, no idea why to this day either...

krispie Sat 14-Jul-07 21:01:15

read this

youbetimnamechanging Sat 14-Jul-07 21:08:34

Aw, thanks Desi

And thanks to all who've answered. I think I just needed a bit of a stern talking-to and some sensible advice. (Good link also, thanks krispie. Nice to know we're not alone.)

So, until the next time I have an embarrassing dilemma/genital complaint... au revoir, ladies.

Troutpout Sat 14-Jul-07 21:09:11

i agree with others..You just need to talk about it more, not less.Do you talk about your own ethnic group? and your own skin colour? He needs to understand that he belongs to an ethnic group too.. start with that and broaden it out maybe.I think it sounds like he's trying to prompt you to give him the language to talk about what he sees and what is clearly being glossed over ( because of your own worries about how to deal with it).I understand why you might do it with all good ententions btw...but it is confusing for a child. kids have both said something negative about their dad's skin colour in the past..'poor daddy he's all reddy and pink and white and we are nice and brown' i've been there.

Good luck

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